Defenders in soccer are used to toiling in the shadows. They are accustomed to the guys upfront, who score the goals, getting the lion’s share of the publicity and the awards.
That formula was turned around this year thanks to the stellar play of West Chester Henderson’s Max Zandi. The Warriors had one of the stingiest defenses in the state, to go along with a potent offense. And the leader of the group was Zandi, whose leadership and skill led the team to the District 1 Class 4A championship.
Zandi now steps into the spotlight of individual recognition as he is tabbed as the Daily Local News Boys Soccer All-Area Player of the Year.
“It’s a great honor,” Zandi said. “It’s usually offensive players who usually win awards like this. I have to credit my teammates, I’ve couldn’t have done this without them. This is pretty cool. It was a great four years”
The Warriors finished 23-2-1 with 14 shutouts. They finished as co-champs of the Ches-Mont League National Division before steaming into the district tournament. They allowed just one goal during the tournament, culminating with a 2-0 victory over Conestoga in the championship.
“Beating ‘Stoga in districts is definitely the top memory from the season,” Zandi said.
Zandi and the Warriors defense allowed more than one goal in a game only three times on the season.
“He is real intelligent. He knows where to be at the right moments,” said Henderson coach Sean Ryan. “This senior group has played together for over a decade and Max is kind of the alpha dog. He sets the tone and they respond accordingly. The stats aren’t there, but he was always there to make a key interception or key tackle when he was the last defender.”
Zandi showed an older-than-his-years type of maturity almost immediately at Henderson.
“In his sophomore year, he came into camp and worked real hard and became one of the captains, which spoke volumes about how we, and the players, felt about him,” said Ryan. “The next year, we made him the sole captain, and it was a decision that definitely paid off.”
It may have been a strange sight during the captains meeting before games when teams have multiple players as opposed to the lone figure of Zandi. Being a lone captain didn’t faze him.
“If we were playing somebody I knew, we would joke about it a little, but it wasn’t any added pressure,” he said.
Zandi’s abilty in the the center of defense allowed the Warriors to be more aggressive all the way up the field. Left back Richie Schlentz, a converted striker, took advantage and provided additional offensive firepower with his overlapping runs.
The uniqueness of Henderson is the closeness of the core group, which has ben together since they were young players learning the game.
“The great thing about it is that it had the feel of coaching a local neighborhood team, which is a different enviroment than you get whith some other teams,” said Ryan.
“I love how close we are,” added Zandi. “It’s been a really cool experience playing with them.”
For those who follow high school soccer, the name Zandi has been very instrumental at Henderson. Max’s cousin, Sydney, starred at the school, and made the U.S. Under-17 National Team.
“I love how close we are,” he said. “We really enjoy watching each other play and it’s great that we’re making the Zandi name being remembered at Henderson.”
The next phase of Zandi’s life comes in the fall, when he attends Villanova.
“I’m very excited for that,” he said.